‘THE SPACE PIRATES’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Space Pirates with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe
Oh dear. How did new series writer Robert Shearman put it regarding ‘The Space Pirates’?
We have one episode of it, it’s quite dull. We have the soundtrack, that’s quite dull. I’ve finished listening to ‘The Space Pirates’. It’s considered to be one of the worst ‘Doctor Who’ stories ever made. Do I agree with this? Yes, but I do not regard it as the absolute worst ‘Doctor Who’ TV story ever made.
This is a six-part story by Robert Holmes. Originally, Robert Holmes was going to contribute a different story entirely called ‘The Aliens in the Blood’. Unfortunately it was rejected and Robert Holmes came up with a new story that became ‘The Space Pirates’. It was meant to be a four-parter.
But Derrick Sherwin was the script-editor of ‘The Space Pirates’ at the time instead of Terrance Dicks. Derrick Sherwin decided to stretch out the story to six episodes to fill in the missing gaps the season was having, as it was at this time that two stories commissioned in the schedule fell through.
Like I said, only one episode of this story has survived in existence from the BBC archives since all the other five episodes are missing. The surviving episode in question happens to be ‘Episode Two’ and this is included in the ‘Lost in Time’ DVD. There is also surviving footage of ‘Episode One’ on the DVD.
I did watch ‘Episode Two’ on its own on the ‘Lost in Time’ DVD without having listened to the soundtrack. This was to get an idea of what the story was like. I found myself feeling bored from watching the episode, especially since the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe did not seem to be doing anything.
All they seemed to be doing was be trapped inside this capsule and trying to find a way to get out. Things get interesting at the end when someone comes in; shoots Jamie down and Zoe shouts “You murderer!” Everything else about the episode seems plot-driven, focusing on supporting characters.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Robert Holmes/Derrick Sherwin was giving time to develop the story and characters, especially in a stretched six-episode structure as this. But I couldn’t help but feel lost while I was watching the episode alone. It didn’t spark my interest as I tended to drift away.
I hoped I could salvage what I considered a boring ‘Doctor Who’ episode by listening to the complete TV soundtrack when I purchased it as a download from Audible. The TV soundtrack has linking narration provided by Frazer Hines, who played Jamie McCrimmon in ‘Doctor Who’. ‘The Space Pirates’ CD is now available as part of ‘The Lost TV Episodes: Collection Five’ CD box set by AudioGo.
I’m afraid I have to say I even found the TV soundtrack hard-going. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. On the contrary, I found the second half of the story better than the first half. Things got interesting when the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe were on an alien planet and not inside a space capsule.
This ‘Doctor Who’ story isn’t one of Robert Holmes’ greatest stories that he contributed to the TV series. It was his second contribution after he did ‘The Krotons’ two stories before this one. He would later go on to do amazing tales and become the script editor for Tom Baker’s era of the show.
I wish that ‘The Space Pirates’ worked better as a four-parter as opposed to a six-parter. You can tell that the story is struggling to get out in its elongated format. I wouldn’t say that was Robert Holmes’ fault though. This had to do with script editor Derrick Sherwin’s attempts to fill in slots of the season.
Now I’m not blaming Derrick Sherwin desperately trying to work under pressure and getting shows on TV for viewers to enjoy. I’m saying that if this had to be a six-parter, it should have been more action-packed than it was. All I got was lots of people talking and not enough action-packed scenes.
It also didn’t help that ‘The Space Pirates’ had the lowest ratings of Season 6 at the time it was transmitted. It would have repercussions for the rest of the season in how its ratings dipped low towards its end, but that didn’t kill the TV show entirely. But that’s a story for another time anyway.
But yeah, what can I say about the story. Well, it’s essentially about the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe visiting the far future and getting caught up in some conflict on the frontier of space. Apparently there are these space pirates who are blowing up space beacons to get the mineral called aragonite.
This is essentially a Wild West adventure in space. They even had the character Milo Clancey as an outer-space American Westerner with the American accent and all. And I’m fine with a Wild West adventure in space, but again there should be more action sequences and less talking with the plot.
Patrick Troughton as always delivers a fine performance as the Doctor. I don’t think he does anything stand out in this adventure, apart from finding ways for him and his friends to get out of being trapped in a space capsule and out of a prison on an alien planet. He also defuses some detonators.
Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury are equally wonderful as Jamie and Zoe in this adventure. Again, nothing stands out for them in this adventure. The scenes with Jamie, Zoe and the Doctor kept my interest as I wanted to know what happened to them. I wished there was more of them in the story.
The guest cast are fairly good in their performance and there are actors I recognise from watching ‘Episode Two’ and from the still photos of the story. But the pacing of this story tended to drag and it wasn’t enough for me to get invested in the characters, at least not until the second half of the tale.
Jack May guest stars as General Hermack of the Space Corps V-ship called the V41-LO (an unimpressive name for a spaceship. Not a match on the Enterprise, is it?). For me, Jack May played King Théoden in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ radio series and he starred in a ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ episode.
There’s also Donald Gee as Major Ian Warne, General Hermack’s right-hand man. Donald Gee also appeared in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ radio series, playing Radagast the Brown. He also guest starred in ‘The Monster of Peladon’ with Jon Pertwee. It was so nice to see Jack May and Donald Gee in this.
Gordon Gostelow guest stars as Milo Clancey, the captain of the LIZ 79 freighter. I admit Milo Clancey’s American accent did grate on me at times. It wasn’t clear whether he was a space pirate himself as General Hermack and Major Warne suspected. The breakfast scene in his ship was funny.
The space pirates themselves happen to be Dudley Foster as Caven and Brian Peck as Dervish. I’m not sure what their motive is in wanting the aragonite (I’ll have to check this). Caven is antagonistic and villainous as a space pirate, doing some nasty things here, whereas Dervish seems more passive.
There’s also Lisa Daniely as Madeleine Issigri, who is the head of the Issigri Mining Company. She has her own base on the planet Ta. Madeleine becomes outraged when she sees Caven and Dervish doing terribly things. She also has her father Esmond Knight as Dom Issigri who dresses Edwardian?!
Another issue I have with this story is the trading atmosphere and the politicking that’s going in this conflict between the Earth’s Space Corps and the space pirates. It didn’t feel exciting enough for me to be emotionally invested. Had it been more character and emotionally driven, I’d enjoyed it more.
If you have the ‘Lost in Time’ DVD, there’s an audiobook trailer on Disc 1 for the missing episode stories of ‘Doctor Who’ on audiobook CDs. There’s also a documentary on Disc 3 called ‘The Missing Years’ which looks into the missing episodes of ‘Doctor Who’, presented by Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling.
‘The Space Pirates’ is…dull. But I found it okay. The issue I have with the story is the pacing and it should have been a four-parter as opposed to a six-parter. I struggled listening to this story and I’m sure the story struggled to get out. It isn’t one of Robert Holmes’ greats, but he’d get better later on.
‘The Space Pirates’ rating – 5/10
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